Wangfujing “Snack” Street, Beijing

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Starfish Anyone?

STARFISH AND SCORPIONS AND SPIDERS, OH MY!

(Beijing, CHINA) I heard that Chinese food in China is very different than Chinese Food in the United States.  On my last day of my visit to Beijing… I learned just how different it is.

One of my favorite parts of any trip is the food.
On a scale of 1 to 10 rating adventurous eaters, I used to think I was about a 7 or 8.   My major aversion is eggs (it’s rooted in a bad experience with a fried egg as a kid).

But on my vacation to Beijing, I learned I’m more of a 5 or 6.

A WORD OF ADVICE FROM A SCHOLAR

“No matter how tasty any of the street food looks, don’t eat any of it!”
It was a little piece of advice from a Professor of Asian Studies I interviewed on an unrelated story just before my trip.

Professor Patrick Hatcher is a Distinguished Fellow with the Center for the Pacific Rim at the University of San Francisco.   In his estimation, the cleanliness of the street food in China is the biggest concern.  Especially since much of the raw meat and fish sits out in the open for hours just before it’s cooked.  Shellfish in Asia can be especially treacherous for the American eater, no matter how well handled.

A TOURIST’S QUICK ASSESSMENT

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon over the Great Wall

The professor’s advice was easy enough to follow because we didn’t have much exposure to Beijing street food.  Our tour guide had us on a strict sight seeing schedule to the usual tourist haunts like the Forbidden City, the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium, and the Great Wall of China.

Interspersed between sights were the captive audience junkets to a jade factory, a pearl factory, a cloisonne factory, and we learned about silk and tea. These were are all probably kick back tours that are very common.  You’ll get a big demonstration, then you’ll feel almost obligated to buy something.  If you’re not interested, just find a corner and hide until your fellow travelers make their purchases.

Each day – our tour included lunch and dinner.  I’ve always liked Chinese food, but it’s a treat I only ate occasionally.

Sweet And Sour Chicken again?

So Chinese food for lunch and dinner — every day — for five days — got old really quick.  Beijing is an enormous, modern city.  But it’s not very cosmopolitan.   There are plenty of fast food staples like McDonalds, KFC, and TGI Fridays.   But Beijing isn’t a place you’re going to find a neighborhood mom and pop French Bistro.  Even eastern influences like Thai, Indian, Japanese and Vietnamese are in short supply.

So on the day we rode rickshaws though a hutong neighborhood, we were delighted to have a home cooked lunch by one of the residents.
It was whipped up by a whiz of a cook in one of the smallest kitchens I’ve ever seen.
Fresh from the wok, it was the best meal we had on the whole trip.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the extent of “authentic” Chinese Cuisine.  I had heard that Chinese food in China is DIFFERENT than Chinese food in the United States.

So when one of our fellow travelers told me about the night markets and “Snack Street”… I had to check it out.

THE NIGHT MARKETS ON WANGFUJING STREET

Wangfujing Night Market

As you approach the snack stands along Wangfujing street, they look like typical street food stands.
Part of the fun is listening to the calls from the vendors to get your attention.

At first glance – most of the snacks on a stick aren’t too exotic like shrimp and craw fish.  And other offerings like snake and frog might push the boundaries of American eating.  But a couple of our fellow travelers from rural parts of the US said they’ve eaten similar critters.
But when you move along, the specimens get much more intense.

The enormous spiders and scorpions on a stick are pretty surprising.

And the offerings get even more interesting when you head down one of the side alleys off Wangfujing.

Snakes, Spiders, Scorpions

This is where the locals snack.
And this is where SOME food is pulverized into submission, like hand hammered peanut brittle.
And the rest as fresh as if it’s just been stuck on a skewer, like still scrambling scorpions.

As I was gazing on this array of arachnids – I thought to myself – I should really try something.  But the advice of the Professor of Asian Studies in San Francisco I talked to before my trip kept ringing through my head.
“No matter how tasty any of the street food looks, don’t eat any of it!”
And also, I’m a little arachnophobic.

And then, while studying the still moving scorpions on a stick, a little girl, and her two brothers made me realize how much of a wuss I am.

Mmmmm... Tasty!!!

Scorpions didn’t seem to scare them…. but they still terrify me

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